It’s Design Miami this week and the event is facing some difficult challenges. There is the sluggish economy, a plethora of other design fairs to contend with and the fact that the worlds of “design art” and “limited-edition design” that it champions are still maturing as markets. At just five years old, Design Miami has to work harder than ever to stay relevant and important.
Not that it has trouble pulling in the punters. Those blue skies are always going to be attractive to fairgoers keen to escape the European winter for a few days. But why else would you visit? Well, the stimulating cocktail of talks, exhibitions and pop-up shows creates a platform for international gallerists, curators, collectors, artists and designers to network.
Tagging it on the back of Art Basel Miami Beach ushers in a wider audience too. And being located in Miami, the show is also a gateway to Latin America, a market not so easily tapped into from Europe. The press launch on Tuesday was certainly buzzing. On the opening day, visitor numbers were up by about 15 per cent on last year. Final figures are still being crunched, but overall there is an air of optimism. The show is smaller (there are 16 design galleries compared to 23 last year) but the standard is high. Most of the galleries are European or US – there is one from Asia, Seoul’s Seomi Gallery.
Organiser Ambra Medda’s team has kept a tight, defiant and highly edited curatorial voice. Yet the ambition to present new concepts, upcoming designers and galleries is clear. Adam Lindemann, a private investor, collector and entrepreneur, explains: “I come here with tremendous curiosity, the design fair is almost more interesting to me than the art fair because it is less predictable. I don’t really know what I’m going to find.”
There is a genuinely creative spirit at play. Perhaps it’s because the work doesn’t have to be destined for production, as at Salone and IMM Köln. So you’ll find playful designs crafted from experimental technologies and materials. Design Miami is the place to push boundaries.
As customers desire more affordable work, it means emerging artists and designers can get more of the spotlight. “The emphasis is absolutely on bringing new things to market,” says Nicholas Kilner, creative director at Sebastian + Barquet. The New York gallery is turning heads with its retrospective of Mexican modern design, showcasing pieces from Luis Barragán and Pedro Friedeberg, among others. So is Design Miami still relevant? “This fair remains critical, because like any fair, its credibility lies in its curatorial excellence. We’re here because I want to continue the dialogue, the relevance and the importance of design and art in our society,” insists Murray Moss, co-founder of gallery Moss.
Rooted in the Dacra-developed Miami design district, Moss would like to see the show transplanted to the Art Basel Miami grounds on South Beach. “The physical merging of these fairs is critical because it’s a truer reflection of what the work is. The distance between art and design is actually shortening.”